We may live in an age bereft of serial killers, but the millennial generation as a whole continues to murder shit. Their latest target: deodorant. “According to a survey conducted by market research company YouGov, nearly 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say they haven’t applied either [deodorant or antiperspirant] in the last month,” reports WBTV.com. “The survey also shows that 31 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds also haven’t used deodorant in the last month.”
To be clear, this isn’t the first time millennials have allegedly shunned sweet-smelling sticks in favor of their generational tang. In 2014, a report on CNBC suggested that one reason millennials are notoriously unemployed or underemployed is because of their hygiene. “In the Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility report, released Monday, surveyors asked 1,000 adults about the importance of various items in their daily lives,” reports CNBC. “Among millennials, 93 percent said a smartphone was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important, making it the most important item for that age group. Fewer — 87 percent — said deodorant was of daily importance, and 91 percent, a toothbrush.”
The more recent survey does however note that the latest deodorant trend has little to do with personal hygiene, considering the percentage of millennials washing their hair everyday is close to the overall population percentages. This is a fact that 37-year-old Naveen Kumar confirms in an article for GQ, advocating for ditching deodorant. “I shower every day,” he says. In other words, millennials may be funky, but they’re not dirty. So why, then, are they choosing to ditch their deodorant in favor of the au naturel body-odor experience brought to you by their sudoriferous glands?
“I work from home so not being in an office environment makes it easy to not have to worry about whether or not I smell sweaty,” Mike C., a 26-year-old graphic designer, tells me. He, too, showers every day, but stopped wearing deodorant after he ran out a few years ago. “One day I ran out, and I just never really bought it again,” he says. Kumar’s explanation for not wearing deodorant is similar, having stopped using deodorant when he stopped working in a “corporate office environment.” “That’s also the time I started growing a mustache as well,” he says.
The newfound freedom of not having to wear deodorant made Kumar question the industrial body-odor complex altogether. “I think it was that freedom, and then it was also, why have I been doing this for so long?” Kumar tells me. “The antiperspirant or deodorant [I used], the reaction that it had, it caused stains on clothes. I actually stopped getting pit stains on my shirts.” He’s right: MEL staff writer Ian Lecklitner has written before about how sweat doesn’t cause those gross yellow pit stains on your shirts; it’s the products used to stop the sweat. “The culprit behind those jaundiced splotches is aluminum, the active ingredient in most antiperspirants — and some deodorants — that chemically reacts with the protein in sweat to cause underarm yellowing,” he writes.
Millennial women, too, are starting to opt out, although it’s perhaps a tougher sell, considering the higher grooming standards expected of women generally. Twenty-six-year-old Michelle A., for example, tells me that she never used to wear deodorant because she didn’t sweat much, but recently started to again out of fear that a guy might smell her body odor on dates. “I just use it as an extra precaution,” she says.
To that end, Slate writer Shannon Palus recently noted in this article about the rise of natural deodorants that, when deodorants first started being sold in the late 1800s, they were solely targeted to women. “Early marketing campaigns, as journalist Sarah Everts has reported, were designed to make women — and they were first marketed just to women — embarrassed about the entire concept of perspiration,” writes Palus. It’s probably wishful thinking to suggest that millennials’ current reluctance to deodorize their pits is another positive gender-inequity course-correction, but it is true that the trend suggests a greater societal acceptance of sweat and body odor.
For some, of course, smelling a little more pungent may be the point. Kumar says he’s noticed that some gay men actually prefer the natural musk. “I think it’s other people who are in my boat, like other gay men, who appreciate the smell,” he says in GQ. “That sort of pheromones-type thing.”
Either way, if current employment trends continue and more and more millennials (particularly millennial white dudes) find themselves outside of a corporate environment, the future of big deodorant could be in question. Think about it this way: If young folks are increasingly relegated to their home offices — which also happens to be their parents’ basement — what reason do they have not to smell a little funky?